Soheir Battaa was 13 years old when she was brought to a doctor who would perform a procedure known as “thara,” the cutting of a girl’s external genitalia. Although she did not want the procedure, she knew she had no say in the decision. Her father took her to the doctor, Raslan Fadl Halawa, in a small village northeast of Cairo and requested the procedure for his daughter. Her death was originally reported as a result of an allergic reaction to penicillin.
Battaa died from the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), but her death may bring hope for thousands of other girls. The doctor is being prosecuted by human rights organizations and this is the first time in Egypt’s history that a doctor is standing trial for FGM. He is being accused of practicing FGM, medical negligence and running an illegal clinic. The father also faces charges for requesting the procedure for his daughter. This trial has the chance to create a precedent-setting judgment against FGM.
Since 2008, FGM has been outlawed in Egypt. Egypt’s health minister decree 271 states: “It is prohibited by doctors and members of the nursing staff to make any cut or reform to any natural part of the female reproductive system (circumcision), whether in government or non-governmental hospitals and other places.”
However, the practice is still widespread in the country, especially in rural areas and among uneducated communities. FGM is common in both traditional and religious communities which believe that it is a form of purification and discourages sex before marriage. FGM is supposed to protect the girls’ virtue, that is, until her family marries her off.
Female genital mutilation has long-term negative physical and psychological effects upon a woman’s health. Most girls do not have a choice in deciding whether or not they want the “operation.” It is a practice that stems from the lack of women’s rights and female empowerment in those communities.
The doctor is confident that he will be cleared of his charges because he was simply obeying Battaa’s parents. Although female genital mutilation is banned in Egypt, it is still deeply ingrained in the culture and customs of the country. Battaa’s village mourns her death, but the villagers “quietly defend” the practice that killed one of their own.
– Sarah Yan